DVD: Grace (2009)

December 2, 2010 | By | Add a Comment

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Film: Excellent / DVD Transfer: Excellent / DVD Extras: Excellent

Label: Anchor Bay/Starz / Region: 1 (NTSC) / Released: September 15, 2009

Genre: Pyschological Horror

Synopsis: Although her unborn child is diagnosed as dead, the baby miraculously returns to life after birth… with a few strange needs.

Special Features: Audio commentary with writer/director Paul Solet, producer Adam Green, and cinematographer Zoran Popovic / Original promo short “Grace” (5:58) / 6 Featurettes: “Grace at Sundance” (13:11) + “Grace: Conception” (6:43) + “Grace: Delivered” (37:02) with 7 chapter stops + “Grace: Family” (11:58) + “Her Mother’s Eyes: The Look of Grace” (7:04) + “Lullaby: Scoring Grace” (8:56) / Trailer / DVD-ROM: Screenplay in PDF format / O-sleeve

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Review:

Paul Solet’s feature film debut is a surprising refined return to the psychological horror film which establishes compelling characters and documents a mother’s terrible downward spiral as she struggles to care for her child when things become very, very strange.

The comparisons to Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) are fair in the way the viewer is deeply drawn to the inner torment of the heroine and stays on her side in spite of the obvious destructive behaviour that blossoms from self-imposed seclusion to murder.

Solet’s script is letter perfect; there’s no wasted scene, and one can elegantly trace Madeline’s mental descent from the opening frame as she engages in an almost unwelcome attempt to procreate. Even though the pregnancy is celebrated by the parents, it’s clear the baby will become Madeline’s most beloved person, since her chilly husband and his imperious mother seem to lack the support and comfort Madeline requires to establish a life in a coolly decorated homestead.

When the husband is killed in a car accident and Madeline’s in utero baby shows no signs of life, Solet focuses not on visions of some demon child destined to materialize from the mother’s womb, but her difficult decision to carry the child to term, and follow plans for a natural birth that will bring the dead baby into its mother’s arms before it’s laid to rest.

The horror element is introduced as a gentle shock: after the birth, Madeline wishes to hold her dead daughter Grace just once, and in a futile effort to will it to life, the impossible happens – it begins to suckle, and feed.

Over time, Grace develops into a normal, happy, healthy baby, but Madeline senses her daughter isn’t quite right when the infant is hounded by flies, and mere breast milk just won’t satisfy the little girl’s hunger.

Grace never develops demonic powers or grows fangs and evil reptilian eyes, as in Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive (1974). Solet keeps the characters grounded in a skewed reality by keeping Grace emotionally and physically normal: the infant cries and burps like an ordinary baby, while her mother’s trial and error in the kitchen eventually stumbles upon blood as potentially the ideal protein drink.

The story ultimately becomes a tale of a mother trying to cope with her child’s strange nutritional requirements, during which Madeline closets herself from society because of a full-blown fear of losing little Grace to her possessive and manipulative mother-in-law (beautifully played by Gabrielle Rose) who wants to replace her dead son with the granddaughter.

Added into the story is a surprise relationship, as well as a jealous character whose lies are largely responsible for pushing Madeline over the edge, and while the finale may not completely satisfy – it’s a sudden nudge toward a more traditional monster movie – Grace is an extremely moving film.

Equally intriguing is the rather marginal roles of men in the drama (much can be theorized about their reduction in the film as stags, perverts, and wimps) and strong conflicts between four women who defend their desire to preserve meaningful relationships.

Solet’s care towards the film’s look is beautifully covered by cinematographer Zoran Popovic, a pro who showed similarly deft touches in Chris Sivertson’s The Lost (2006). The images are quite beautiful, as are some inventive visual tricks and camera angles. Solet’s a film buff to the core, but he doesn’t create scenes to mimic classic horror moments – a self-conscious style that would’ve destroyed the purity of the script and the excellent cast.

Grace was the first film produced by Adam Green (Hatchet) for his new company, and like Anchor Bay’s Hatchet DVD, the extras not only support the film, but provide a detailed examination into how one indie filmmaker beta the odds and made a good film.

It sounds simplistic, but as Solet explains on the DVD’s solid commentary track with producer Green, Grace went through multiple rewrites and incarnations before it was refined into a psychological horror. The original script proved attractive to directors and producers, but the monster child angle wasn’t something Solet wanted, and in deciding to direct the film himself, he knew he had to figure out a marketing plan.

Step one was to make a promo film that covered key beats leading up to Grace’s birth. That film, shot on 35mm film stock, is included on the DVD, and when watched after the feature film, one is surprised by its severely truncated storyline. In comparison to films like Sean Ellis’ Cashback (2003) or Neill Blomkamp’s Alive in Joburg (2005), which were conceived with full narratives, it’s hard to see why the short proved so popular with audiences.

The dialogue is almost the same, but the tone and visual style are more garish and kinetic, leading one to believe once cinematographer Popovic was attached to the feature version, a lot more care was put into creating a measured, Cronenbergian shocker that creeps instead of assaults.

The making-of featurettes are equally informative, particularly on filming in Saskatchewan, Canada, as well as a lengthy interview with composer Austin Wintory, who explains his spot-on choices of musical sounds and sound design. A segment on the film’s screening at Sundance is revealing for showing the need to be an energetic self-promoter, something not every writer/director would enjoy or tolerate as questions become repetitive and answers have to remain fresh and personable.

The characters and fine actors are also showcased throughout the featurettes, and the Blu-ray edition contains a second audio commentary track with writer/director Paul Solet and actress Jordan Ladd.

Grace is easily one of the best psychological horror films in years, and Solet demonstrates the level of terror that can be wrought when the focus is on character flaws than formal horror shocks.

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© 2009 Mark R. Hasan

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Related links:

DVD / Film:  Hatchet (2006)

Interview:  Composer Austin Wintory on Grace — on Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho

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Related external links (MAIN SITE):

DVD / Film:  Alive in Joburg (2005) — Cashback (2003) —  The Lost (2006)

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External References:

IMDB Official Film Website — Soundtrack AlbumComposer Filmography

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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